Friday, January 2, 2009

My thoughts in the first weeks and how they've changed in 7 months:

1) "It seems really, really dangerous driving around with 10 people in an '85 escort knock-off"

Travelling here in Cameroon is an absolutely mind-boggling mess. You can travel short distances on motocycle taxis, but they're too expensive to take on long trips. For said long trips, you have to take bush taxis. Bush taxis can vary in size from tiny compact cars to big ass vans. Regardless of size, however, you know you're not leaving until there are at least 4-8 too many people in the vehicle. I once drove from my provincial capital to my home with the following setup: Driver pressed against the driverside window with a teenage boy sharing the driver seat with him. I'm sitting between the driver and passenger seats straddling the gearshift (all the vehicles here are manual). There are two people in the passenger seat. 4 people in the backseat, 2 are women with children on their laps. One preteen boy basically lying across the laps of the other 2. 12 people in a compact car. At first it felt dangerous, now its commonplace. I remember just the other day thinking how luxurious it was to be the only person in the passenger seat.

2) "I'm really not comfortable eating from a community plate of fish with no utensils and dirty hands"

This was one of those things that if I hadn't gotten over, I'd never be able to eat anywhere but my house and the more expensive restaurants. In fact, the dining here in Cameroon has become one of the things I'm going to miss most in the states. Usually when out on the town around dinner time, you can walk up to any of the dozen or so women cooking fish on a makeshift grill and order some "poisson braise" while you wait at a nearby bar. They'll then grill you up a whole fish, throw it on a plate and bring it to whatever bar you're at. It's usually accompanied by a bowl of non-filtered water with which you can wash your hands. It's usually delicious, but there's almost no way to avoid getting sick the first few times while your body gets used to the new germs and such.

3) "This weekly malaria prophylactic sure is convenient!"

Every friday at around 10AM I take Mephloquin, which is a malaria prophylactic. In the beginning I thought it was convenient that I only had to take it once a week and I didn't experience any side effects. Well about a month or two in, I've started having the most horrific, vivid nightmares every friday night like clockwork. I usually wake up around 2AM in a cold sweat after dreaming about crazy stuff like murdering my family or my dog (actual examples). I could switch to another pill, which is taken daily. But the side effects for that pill include sensitivity to sunlight. And as an Irish/Ukrainian living 3 degrees above the equator, I don't really need any help getting sunburn.

4) "It's so nice having all these kids in the village know where I live and come visit me all the time!"

This is something that I imagine every Peace Corps volunteer, regardless of location, has to deal with. I'm lucky enough to have a big ass 10 foot wall surrounding my house so I can more or less set my own visitation hours. But I still get knocks on my gate at all hours of the day, even moreso now that I've gotten a dog that the kids love to play with. It's even worse at some of my friend's homes. I spent the night at one's place just recently, and she had kids knocking on her door and singing random crap in french at like 3 in the morning. Don't you have homes!? It's one of those things that comes with being the only white within 50 kilometers or so. You're a novelty.

5) "Jesus Christ washing my clothes by hand for the next two years is going to be awful"

I actually handwashed my clothes for two months before giving in and starting to pay kids to do it for me. Now I genuinely think its probably easier to do laundry here than in the states. The quality of the wash isn't as good, but where else can you get basically your entire wardrobe washed, dried, and folded for $1 USD?

6) "QUIT STOPPING THE CAR EVERY FIFTEEN MINUTES! IT SHOULD NOT TAKE 90 MINUTES TO TRAVEL 30 KILOMETERS"

Travelling au Cameroun is a joke, as mentioned in #1, but I gotta say I'm happy to be here because I now know that NOTHING will be able to test my patience in the states. I'm well on my way to becoming an absolute goddamn zen master. I once sat on a bus in 90 degree heat for two and a half hours while the driver got accosted by police. Luckily this was only about a month ago so I had gotten used to that sort of thing. If it had happened in my first week I probably would have killed myself/those around me.

7) "I'm really glad I have electricity in my house, but I think I'd rather have running water."

It sucks not having running water, it really does. Doing laundry, washing dishes, washing floors, showering, cooking, and anything else you need water for instantly becomes a hassle. But I'll say, after spending some time at posts without electricity, that it's way better than not having lights. You don't have lights, and your day is just over at 6:30 every night. There is just not a damn thing to do but go to sleep.

8) Man, defecating outside into a hole in the ground is really, really awful.

I've made it into a game. Now its like target practice!

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All in all these past 7 months have been pretty mindblowing. I've seen some insane things (bodies on the side of the road just left there after horrible car accidents, boiled monkey [delicious, but looks like boiled baby], etc). It's also made me more appreciative of life back aux etats unis. After bathing out of a bucket for this long, I'll never again complain about weak water pressure or low temperatures in a shower. It's also convinced me of what I want to do with my life back in the States. After seeing how corruption (Cameroon has been called the most corrupt country in the world by a number of sources) has crippled this country and its citizens in so many ways, I know that studying law back in the states is something I could really get into and enjoy.

So yeah. Such is my life.

Note added after posting: This post reads kinda bleakly, but you should all know I'm really, truly happy here and having a great time. Just felt like ranting a bit.

1 comment:

Aunt Cathy said...

Hi Jim,
Happy New Year. It was great to hear your voice and chat on christmas. Love and miss you. Aunt Cathy

Let's Go Giants!!